Saturday, October 06, 2012

With Air Power, 1962 War Result Would've Been Different: IAF Chief

If the Indian Air Force had been allowed to use offensive air power in the 1962 war the country fought with China, the result of the war -- which China won -- would have been different. A commonly debated view, now said for the first time explicitly by a serving Chief of Air Staff.

Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne  said, "In 1962, there were certain limitations as a result of which the air force was restricted to support and logistics duties. If the IAF had been allowed to participate in an offensive profile, the result of the war would have been different. These are open and glaring lessons we should have imbibed." For good measure, Air Chief Browne also added, "To be sure, there will be no such limitations in the future in any potential conflict."

The "catastrophic ommission" is said to have been chiefly responsible for India's crushing defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962. The decision not to apply air power beyond basic logistical and transport duties was of the Prime Minister at the time -- Jawaharlal Nehru, who is widely believed to have acted (or, not as the case was) on the advice of a handful of people including his Defence Minister at the time and US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith. (As an aside, yesterday, the Chief's words were seen as potentially sensitive since they appeared to question the folly of a man who happens to be the political patriarch of the first family of the current ruling dispensation in the country.)

Many argue that the Chinese would have won the war even if India had applied air power in an offensive profile. That the Chinese air response would have been overwhelming. Either way, in a country that has woefully short strategic memory, and an even more questionable planning ethic, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1962 war -- the only one that India has lost after independence -- is a good occasion as any to debate and discuss this and other questions.


Anonymous said...

Pandit Nehru was under the spell of V.K. Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister (who spoke for ten hours non-stop at the UN) and his hand-picked General, Gen. Kaul, as his "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" slogan had backfired.
The IAF possessed ground attack aircraft like the French Ouragans(Toofanis), Mystere-IVs, the British Vampires, Hunters and the medium Canberra bombers but chose not to use them, whereas the Chinese only had Mig-15/17s.

Abhiman said...

If Mr. Brownie has learnt any lesson, he must expedite the induction of the Tejas as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

1962 was a ground war, that was lost on the Indian side, purely due to inadequate logistics, weapons and infrastructure and lesser troops at the ground level. The air power would have added another dimension to the war, to which India may have slight advantage due to better air-infrastructure and ease of use, but again, it is not clear how good or bad the Chinese air-response would have been. Correct intelligence about chinese air assets at 1962 would provide the answer. Anyways, the major lesson is that, at the ground level India was inferior and must strengthen itself, independently of air-power support.

KaikoRe said...

Outnumbered by 6 chinese soldiers for every 1 indian soldier, I don't think the war could have been won.

The chinese attacked with 6x force only because they knew that they would win. Had the ratio been 1:1 or even 1:2, the chinese wouldn't have crossed the indian border. They wouldn't have taken such a risk in the first place.

The current china-india troop placement on AP-tibet border is 1:3. Does that ring any bell?

Heberian said...

@ BeAbhiman- have some manners, you can if you try hard enough. I am sure you are qualified to advice the Chief ACM Browne. Brownie, really?

@ Shiv - What the Chief said might be true.. but today the challenge is going to be the heavy concentration of missiles that the PRC have stockpiled across our eastern borders. The numbers are quite overwhelming.. and the risk to our air force stations (runways at the very least) and arms depots and such is very very high.

Some day in the future, we should not be discussing things like "If we had sufficient ABM coverage and large numbers of short range missiles to target the Chinese air fields and the railway in Tibet and such, the story would have been different".

Anonymous said...

Dear Readers,
This is an excellenet erchival analysis :

what could IAF done under the circumstances mentioned but at least the IAF could have shown their eagerness to join the war rather than IAF voluntarily remaining " Left out of the battle". There are no excuses for that. History is history and can not be re-written.

sents said...

May be true,w we cannot believe what the chinese says.

Abhiman said...

Mr. Browne must have the dubious distinction of having purchased more foreign planes (by value) than ANY of his predecessors.

Unfortunately, the tenure of Air Chiefs has been reduced to just floating global tenders and signing purchase orders.

This is an opportunity for the present Air Chief : He must use his leadership skills to get new fighters, transporters and trainers from ADA or NAL. I didn't mention HAL, becase in his own words, "HAL has its hands full."

Take Tejas for example. He's done a good job by allowing to take part in the mock fights along with Su-30s and others in Rajasthan next year. But he could visit HAL to oversee its progress, to brainstorm and expedite its induction.

I agree that IAF must not --in principle-- compromise on the IoC procedures. But this argument falls flat, when you consider these facts :

a) IAF has a large fleet of near-obsolete MiG-21s, kept flying by patching & squeezing somewhat-modern systems on rudimentary frames.

b) The fleet of MiGs (especially MiG-21s) have old air-frames. This makes them much more failure and crash prone.

c) No matter how many upgrades they get the fleet of MiG-21s, 27s and the older 29s will NOT be suited for 21st century warfare. There is a limit to how much one can stretch Soviet-era jets.

So, if the IAF can fly these junks who are crying for retirement and put up in public playgrounds and museums, why in the world can't it induct an ultra-modern spanking new Tejas ? Even if the final IoC is a year away ?

If a MiG-21 or even a MiG-29 were to undergo an IoC procedure TODAY, will it pass muster ? Moreover, will it even garner half the parameters that a Tejas already has till now ?

Anonymous said...

1962 was a war that was forced on to the Indian Army by the ineptness of the ignorant politicians being advised by yet some more bumbling 'experts' who had no knowledge of the ground realities of the Sino Indian border.
NAK Browne is right when saying that Air Power would have certainly affected the outcome of the war one way or the another. And we are still deep in slumber as far as any preparations on the Sino Indian Border is concerned. There are no roads, no infrastructure whatsoever to speak of and no development whatsoever. Politicians are only milking the natural resources of the region while paying scant regard to the development.

Anonymous said...

This is merely hindsight bravado of "we could have done better". What is to say that the Chinese Airforce would not have kicked the IAF up and down the himalayas ? NK Browne's "word". Also, if the IAF was SO CAPABLE why was Nehru asking for 6-8 squadrons of Supersonic fighter jets from the US ??

Finally, the 1965 war with Pakistan showed that the IAF was indeed WEAK and the much smaller PAF was able to hold its own against the IAF.

All this points to the fact that the IAF top brass are drunk on their own superiority and confidence - typical fighter jock mentality of their egos writing checks they can't cash.

Anonymous said...

1962 was a war that was forced on us by the implementation of unimaginative and hare brained "Forward Policy" cooked up by a Defence Minister whose closest introduction to military was the inept officers he met in the corridors of power. The military cried itself hoarse against the implementation of the "Forward Policy" but the politicians would hear none of it. That brought about the ignominious defeat because

(a) We didn't have adequate forces on the border.
(b) No infrastructure whatsoever to ferry forces / supplies/ men/ Material/ weapons/ ammunition/ rations/ evacuate casualties. There were no roads, helipads, bridges, Advanced Landing Grounds, Ammunition, Petroleum or rations dumps to resupply embattled troops up on the border or to evacuate casualties backwards.
(c) No stocks at a strategic level for ammunition and petroleum. Down to the very basic levels, the jawan on ground was facing a severe shortage of even small arms ammunition. And there was no artillery, which is so crucial for supporting ground forces, whatsoever to speak of. Hell, the soldiers didn't even have adequate warm clothing to protect themselves from sub-zero temperatures at 15 thousand feet. There were adverts on All India Radio to donate/ knit woollens liberally for our soldiers on the front.
(d) No clear directive given to the military as to what was to be done. Some ambiguous order was passed to hold on at at every cost in the face of a clearly numerically superior foe instead of tactical retreat to fight another day.
(e) Lack of any Air Support to the ground forces whatsoever. Air support was not sanctioned by the ruling politicos for the fear of escalating the level of the conflict. The question is that when the Chinese were already hammering us, where was the wisdom in holding back whatever little air effort that could have provided some measure of succour to our already severely beleageaured ground forces.

Anonymous @ 8.11pm is right in saying that it was the politicians and their ineptness at strategy (which is best left to generals, and experienced ones at that, and not to lackeys like Gen BM Kaul, whom the then PM had promoted rapidly to a Lieutenant General and created a specific new Corps - IV Corps right in the face of the advancing Chinese, because he too was a Kashmiri like him, rater that on merit) that caused a national catastrophe of this magnitude.

Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne may be right in saying that use of Airforce in an offensive role would have stemmed the tide of the war. The PLAAF was not so advanced and the IAF could have easily supported the ground operations even if it may not have carried out strategic interdictions.

For all the armchair strategists, I suggest a thorough reading of "India's China War" by Neville Maxwell, and "Himalayan Blunder" by JP Dalvi before posting any comments here.

It was indeed a folly on the part of national leadership of that time, namely Pandit Nehru and VK Krishna Menon that such a disaster was allowed to happen. The Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report which Reviews the Sino-Indian War


most definitely blames the political leadership pf that time and that's why it's not been made public.

captainjohann said...

The real fault lies with our Army brass who still think that import of planes and equipment which are modern will win the day.Then why ISAF is not able to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan with full air superiority? The Chinese were trained to fight without "Bukharies burning in their tents and they can climb without oxygen as hey were fully acclimatised.Even today can our jawans stand and fight in the open in -50 degree centigrade? Has our communication trenches still require our jawans to crawl while the Chinese forward trenches can accomodate jeeps.Can our fighters make turns in NEFA valley like the Mechuka or walong etc and give close air support?We did not even have one radar which can see over the horizon or loated in hills? The real question is not to blame but to learn lessons.have we learnt them?

Prodyut said...

I always maintain we lost the war at Raisina Hill,not Se La pass.What we needed were better surveys of the roads and bridges,light mountain artillery -the 75 mm air portable type we got AFTER the "horse had bolted" more maps and basic Brigade level equipment. The use of the Air Force would have been "gilding the Lily".The Vampires and Ouragans with their low wing loadings would have been useful in interdicting Chinese Traffic at the higher altitudes rather than American style close support.The Chinese could not have responded.Apart from their precarious supply of Jet Fuel ( which we should have but may have not known about)the 10th std physics is that Chinese aircraft in Tibet would have not been able to take off with worthwhile loads- one reason of their interest in Arunachal Pradesh. To cut things short we handed the war-and the leadership of Asia- on a plate to China. Imagine what would have happened if INDIA had own the war- as Vietnam did Thirty years later!

nikdash said...

We had abysmal leaders and continue till date. How about a maximum age of 55 for any ministers. At least they have some energy and time left on earth to think seriously about their and India's future.

Current events in South China sea indicate Chinese position on territorial claims. How long before they shift focus to Indian border?

Prodyut said...

Just a little bit of human detail.
The Ranchi -Patna road ran past our school.I remember The Principal, an Australian ,incidentally, on coming to know, gave morning study off so that we could go down to the fences and see and cheer the Ramgarh Regiments go down the road to Patna Airport to be airlifted to NEFA.I remember the Chevrolet Flat nosed lorries-not too many Shaktimans- 5.5" Howitzers-"shaking their bustles like ladies so fine"- Jeeps, water tankers,Ambulance Trucks and the men waving from the back of their lorries on their way to "Waterloo".

The winter of 1962, even in Hazaribagh,was bitterly cold and these men had nothing but OG pullovers.The Gurkha Pipe Band used to March at our Annual Sports and they went too. We were very proud when Patrick McKean's Father. Maj.MacKean captured the only Chinese to be taken prisoner.Patrick came in for a lot of reflected glory and at least one of our boys- Captain Chalicherry was right on the front-in sight of the Chinese-when the balloon went up.
Given the incident in 1959 when we lost those policemen in Ladakh- we had time to prepare but begged for trouble and the idiots at the top significantly ruined our lives by the ensuing shock to the economy!We then went "hyper" .The only good part is that '62 was the start of a trilogy. '71 at great cost,made us a Nation!

Anonymous said...

So what has changed since 1962. Granted, Indian armed forces have made significant progresses, but the PLA has made even greater leaps both qualitatively and quantitatively. Would a future border war have a different outcome?

Anonymous said...

No lessons were learnt after the 1962 debacle. Even during kargil battle when porkistanis were occupying the heightsthe then PM Vajpayee did not give go ahead for using airpower. After loosing considerable amount of jawans then only mirages were pressed in and that made the difference. What happens to the top political leadership during an attack on india is bewildering. Rather than going on the offensive the leadership takes a defensive position despite having a formidable air power at disposal. Hope it doesnt get repeated for the third time.

Anonymous said...

Bull shit

tony and y'not!! said...

Be clear about one thing--in times of war it is the military and the political hierarchy which takes decisions as to the conduct of all defensive and offensive operations. No outsiders are involved unless the Nation is either on the brink of defeat ,or is not sure of its own military and diplomatic strength against an enemy who has proved itself to be stronger. Whether use of offensive air power would have tilted the balance in favour of India , at a time when the Army and the Nation were not giving a very good account of of itself , is a moot point and we can make all sorts of conjectures now. May be if we had used the Indian Navy to seal the SLOC's Westwards from the Malacca Straits onwards , the Chinese may have sued for peace!! But we did not use the Navy aggressively! Viewed pragmatically , the Country was not only militarily unprepared to fight a war but frankly speaking the National will and resolve was also lacking. As Indians , it was definitely not our finest hour--we were ready to buckle to soon. England,under the leadership of Churchill fought for more than a year against vastly superior forces --all alone. Sorry , but I disagree if now it is being said that the 'Government/Nehru' did not approve the ' use of the IAF '. By no means am I disparaging the valiant effort of the soldiers and the airmen who did what they did to the extent possible--but had the two Chiefs (that is if they had the resources and the combat power ) categorically stated with the confidence and authority expected from them that the ' IAF will be used and that is our decision'---let me tell you that no Government, Parliament,Bureaucrat or Politician (Nehru/Menon/Galbraith included) could have had the guts to over rule a line of action proposed by the Military .In 1962 , the IAF had very limited training in so far as offensive support in the Himalayas , high altitude and partly jungle terrain was concerned. There was a lack of operational and logistic bases which could facilitate strikes in the genere of BAS or counter air operations.Yes , some amount of interdiction of supply routes , artificial landslides ( in the Himalayan steep and barren hills this can be done, do not compare them with the Alps --that terrain and altitude is different ) , limited air cover and BAS/CAS probably could have been provided but definitely not of the magnitude to have turned the tables! And we definitely did not have a deep strike capability nor identified targets in the TAR or the mainland (CATSPAW was a lesson learnt much later) or the munitions and aircraft capable of meaningful and painful interdiction.In any case the ethos of the airforce (then and more so now) does not support direct air effort(BAS /CAS) for troops on the ground.So what really could the offensive employment of the air force have helped, in say the denial of Tawang to the enemy??Bombing airfields in TAR or doing a Doolittle type of raid with Canberras in the hinterland would have not degraded the war potential of the Chinese.Since independence , all our wars have been of short duration , depth interdiction is of not much relevance to the Indian Army which does not have the wherewithal or doctrine for a protracted war and the IAF's present ' we are too busy for the first four days' can cause more grief than joy to land based operations. At that point of time our air defence network , communication and radar early warning network, associated communication system and inter services jointmanship was woefully rudimentary (the last factor, jointmanship , still is inadequate ,despite what the military pundits and experts may say). Let me add one more thing, even our available air lift and air supply effort was not adequate, the Country had to depend on the USAF and their C130's to provide air lift for troops and supplies .